Monday, 31 July 2017

Some recent online pieces of mine

All prose -

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Did you see Nadal's loss at Wimbledon 2017? He was 2 sets down, managed heroically to catch up, then lost 13-15 in the final set. Soul destroying. Similarly, some of my literary rejections hit harder than others.

Since my pamphlet publication I've been on 3 short/long lists for publication of another poetry book or leaflet. In chronological order, I've been on a short-list of 2, a short-list of 5, and a long-list of 40, which doesn't look like a good trend. The most painful of these was when the short-list was announced before the judge had chosen the winner - getting into the short-list was the hard bit surely. But I lost the final set. So close and yet so far.

This week the short/long lists of the Bath and the Bristol short story competitions were announced. I entered both and got into neither list. Depressing. I was hoping I might get into one of the competitions' anthologies.

The other rejections that depress me are when, to recover confidence, I send some of my better poems to a minor magazine and I can't even get into that. I've had these this month too.

It's not all bad news. Pieces accepted months ago are coming out in next few weeks. Also I've changed my submission recording process, making it easier to produce some statistics. I now know that about 1 in 6 of times I submit (each submission might contain 3 poems, or one story) I get an acceptance. By the law of averages I'm due for an acceptance any moment now.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Next Review ceased publication

The UK magazine "Next Review" (poetry and the odd story) has ceased publication.

And I suspect that the "Journal of Microliterature" has disappeared too.

Sunday, 9 July 2017


I'm just back from 3 nights in Prague. Last time I was there, about 30 years ago, it was communist. Now convoys of open-top cars carry orientals around, the happy wedding couples posing dramatically against the background of the castle whenever they have a spare moment.

I recall few details of my first trip. I'm sure that Tesco wasn't around. Craft beers and street food have arrived. So have chimney-cakes. This week we drank in a Monastery brewery that has re-opened after the onslaught of the multi-nationals. I had blueberry beer, IPA, and beer ice-cream there.

Years after my first trip I wrote Prague '86 which appeared in my book. I fear I messed up some of the details. Mala Strana appears in my story. I managed to come up with some new story ideas while I was over there this time, inspired more by the Best British Short Stories anthology I read than by the setting.

We visited the Jewish zone. This Kafkaesque statue is outside a Synagogue. We went to the Kafka museum and passed the literature museum. I was surprised that Kafka wasn't more exploited around the city. I saw a Kafka cafe, and a Metamorphosis cafe, but that's all. We did the tour of the old town hall - behind the clock on the hour, then down into the catacombs (which used to be the city's ground level). They plan to rebuild the column that was in the square. We climbed the tower of the new town hall as well. In several places around the city we saw marks showing where the 2002 floods reached.

The UK influence goes beyond Tesco - we saw a bust of Churchill down a side-street, and a memorial for the Czechs who died while in the RAF. Lennon and Sherlock Holmes are remembered too. And all the receptionists and ticket sellers spoke good English.

We spent quite a time in the parks - Petrin Park with its Hunger wall, maze, and Eiffel tower, and then Letna Park with its metronome built since my last visit. In the hotel I treated myself to Czech porridge, semolina and polenta. I liked the lard pate too.

Friday, 30 June 2017

A UK submission schedule for the rest of 2017

The second half of the year seems to have fewer competition and magazine-window opportunities for me. Here they are -

Sunday, 25 June 2017

New Walk magazine closes

After 14 issues the UK poetry and prose magazine "New Walk" is shutting down. Instead they'll produce poetry pamphlets - see

Friday, 23 June 2017

Reading stories online

There are some easy-to-dip-into magazines online if you like reading stories that are up to 1000 words long and not too literary. The author bios are online too, so you can be selective. Here are a few to choose from

Of course, you can send them stories too - some of them pay. And you can often leave comments about the pieces. The emergence of Flash has led some magazines to specify minimum word-lengths. The following readable sites have pieces longer than 500 words -

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Writers and families

You can prove anything with statistics. By looking at this graph see if you can deduce when I got married, when the first child became independent, and when they both became independent.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Another UK prose magazine bites the dust

After 10 issues, "Short Fiction" is no longer going to appear in print. "Metropolitan" (another prose-only, non-genre magazine) ceased in 1998. "Panurge" closed in 1993. "Riptide journal" and "Unthology" are still going, and so is "Granta" (though that takes poetry as well now).

Simple economics works against printed story magazines. Understandably, people are more likely to subscribe to magazines that they're likely to appear in. During its decade of existence , "Short Fiction" published only 120 stories. In contrast the latest issue of "The North" published 173 poems by 84 poets.

The increasing popularity of Flash fiction has helped prose magazines survive - more authors per issue! "Flash" is still being published. And genre magazines (SF, etc) continue to live a charmed life.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Writers' and Artists' sheds

Many writers and artists like to work in their garden. The Guardian had a Best writers' sheds feature (Americans seem to prefer writing huts in the wilderness). Here are some that I've seen.
Roald Dahl's cubby hole at Great Missenden (with me sitting in it). He liked wedging himself in.

Henry Moore's summer house at Perry Green, which I visited last weekend. Nearby he had various studios and barns to work in. This shed was nearest his house.

Henry Moore's chair in his summer house. Looks like he also wedged himself in.

The studio of a friend's late husband - a geosodic dome to let in as much light as possible. At Perry Green, Henry Moore's "Plastic Studio" was like a partially built greenhouse.

GB Shaw's shed at Shaw's Corner, Ayot St Lawrence - it could be rotated so that the light was right.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

In the magazines

I'm in the current issues of the paper publications "Envoi", "Acumen" (a letter), and "Unthology" and am due out in the forthcoming issues of "Interpreter's House", "Cake" and "Flash". Online I'm in the current "Firefly" and I'm due out in "Spelk" and "Ink, Sweat & Tears". 10 acceptances so far this year.

I'm not used to such exposure. I did my market research at the start of the year (A UK prose submission schedule for early 2017, etc) so I've been able to keep a minimum of 20 submissions in circulation, resending rejected pieces out quickly. And I've not wasted time sending to the growing list of magazines that I realise I've next to no chance of being in.

Friday, 5 May 2017

New Meanings

In by Steven J. Stewart it says that

  • Barthes sees the evolution of language terminating in its present condition, one of absence, where literature only exists in the "absence of all signs," hence the "zero degree of writing"
  • the language of poetry no longer exists as a means of signifying or representing the world. Whereas the project of classical literature was to express an existing thought or image with the right words, the project of modern literature is to organize words in such a way that a new, previously-nonexistent thought or image is expressed
  • Connections are not properly speaking abolished, they are merely reserved areas, a parody of themselves, and this void is necessary for the density of the Word to rise out of a magic vacuum, like a sound and a sign devoid of background, like ‘fury and mystery.’
  • While words don’t relate in the classical sense, each word furthers the creation of the "continuum" until a critical “density” is achieved and the reader experiences the poem as “fury and mystery.” The poem becomes like a Zen koān, an unanswerable riddle that resists the reader’s efforts to solve it. As the reader experiences the poem, chasing the false leads, she comes to a type of enlightenment, a sense of the mysterious, problematic nature of language.
  • It's an effect that Robert Kelly calls presentness; he says that the power of poetry is "to employ prepositional language not to make assertions, but to make, for a moment, lush gardens where one is free from assertions, exalted in the fragrance of presentness"
  • Paz writes that "In order to experience a poem, we must hear it, see it, contemplate it — convert it into an echo, a shadow, nothingness"

I know what he's getting at. I don't think I could write texts that generate this kind of meaning.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Unthology 9 Launch

Tonight I helped launch Unthology 9 with Gordon Collins, Judy Birkbeck, Tim Sykes, Roelof Bakker and Jane Roberts, presided over by the tireless Ashley Stokes. I read the final part of my episodic piece, providing some explanation. It's available on the Kindle

The last time I read in Norwich I was trying to sell magazines for Cambridge Univ's poetry society, so it must have been about 30 years ago. This time I read part of a story rather than poems, and the setting was rather grander than the brown-walled hall of long ago - "the library", the venue for the launch, was the UK's first public subscription library.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

CB1 Poetry - Geraldine Clarkson and Paul Stephenson

Last night I saw Geraldine Clarkson and Paul Stephenson at the CB2 venue (like OuseMuse it's in a basement). Standing room only. I've not encountered Geraldine Clarkson before - I'll keep my eyes open for her work in future. Paul and I have been bumping into each other off and on for years. He going from strength to strength, able to combine rhythm, repetition and reportage (elsewhere I've seen him do Oulipo) with emotion ranging from humour to horror, and an effective delivery - only a few words between the poems, but his Paris poems speak for themselves.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

States of Independence (Leicester, 2017)

On Saturday I went to States of Independence in Leicester. It's the 8th one. I think I've been to most of them. I recommend it to writers of all types, but especially small-press people. I couldn't attend all the events/readings I wanted to - there are too many. In the end I plumped for "How to Submit to a Literary Magazine" (Maria Taylor), "Shoestring Spectacular, with poets from Romania, America and Leicester" (I went to see Roy Marshall), and "How to Talk About Poetry" (Nottingham STANZA) - they looked at Jacob Polley's "Jackself".

I bought "The book of tides" by Angela Readman (Nine Arches Press, 2016), "The Great Animator" by Roy Marshall (Shoestring Press, 2017) and "Swimming with Jellyfish" by Stuart Pickford (Smith Doorstep). I've already started on the Angela Readman book. I've read (and liked) her story collection, "Don't try this at home" and am already finding her poems interesting, varied and worthy of slow reading.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

"A short history of synchronised breathing" by Vanessa Gebbie

Vanessa Gebbie's one of the writers I follow. I never know what she'll come up with next - novel? poems? short stories? Flash? Metafiction? Her latest book of prose (available from Cultured Llama) is more on the "comic/ strange/ thought-provoking" side. My write-up of "A short history of synchronised breathing" (with stories from BBC Radio 4, Smokelong Quarterly, etc) is now online. I'm unbiased of course, but I'm quoted on the back cover.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Ouse Muse

It's a struggle organising poetry events. The web has made publicity easier, and getting performers isn't always the hardest part. Venues are a problem though - cost (£100/night isn't unknown for a pub-room, even though the pub makes money from people buying drinks), location (city centres are expensive, church-halls are lifeless), atmosphere (you don't want too much noise from a nearly bar, but you want to be close to the action), and access (without wheelchair access, grants and help from the council become more difficult) are all issues.

Yesterday I popped over to Bedford to see Stephen Payne (Smiths Knoll and HappenStance) perform. The evenings are run by Ian McEwen (Templar and Cinnamon) who's found a good venue and a list of good poets. Ouse Muse has been going for a while and is well worth a visit. A wide range of styles are presented, and there are open-mic opportunities.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Storia della bambina perduta

My Italian isn't good, but I can battle through novels, the most recent one being "Storia della bambina perduta" by Elena Ferrante. Reading in Italian emphasises my tendency to see a text as a construct, a contrivance. In "Close Calls with Nonsense", Stephen Burt advises readers who are searching for a poem's "meaning" to "Look for self-analyses or for frame-breaking moments". It works for prose too - when authors want to get a point over, they will flip from "show" to "tell", or dissolve the fourth wall. I've picked out some tell-tale moments in my write-up. They are perhaps in character, suited to the occasionally reflective Elena whose first-person narrative it is. Some other characters however become rather overloaded with plot functions at the expense of believability.

There are few admirable characters, but as she writes on p.429, "Only in bad novels do people always think the right things, does every action have a cause, are there pleasant and unpleasant people, good and bad, and a happy ending"

Monday, 16 January 2017

Some miscellaneous literary links

  • Issue one of (b)OINK magazine has appeared - fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, art. Looks good.
  • While reading Flash Frontier I stumbled across Ingrid Jendrzejewski's bio - "... studied creative writing at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge. She has soft spots for Go, cryptic crosswords and the python programming language". Her 2016 list of pubs (36 items) is impressive - Aesthetica, 50-Word Stories, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine, Flash Frontier, Litro, and various competition mentions (first place, Bath Flash Fiction Award, etc). One to watch.
  • If you like diagrams constructed from texts (Hamlet for example), you may be interested in Network Theory, Plot Analysis by Franco Moretti
  • Matthew Stewart's The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2016 begins with "There's no point beating about the bush or glossing things over: 2016 hasn’t been a vintage year for U.K. poetry blogs" but he puts a brave face on it

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Maria Taylor and Gregory Leadbetter

2 poets, 2 pamphlets, 2 books, 2 publishers. Both of these poets had publications last year which were successors to earlier publications.

At a recent poetry meeting that I went to there was discussion about the changing role of pamphlets. They needn't be a stepping stone towards first-book publication. If you produce only 2 or 3 decent poems a year and you don't want to compromise on quality, a pamphlet's the only alternative to waiting a decade or so between publications. These two poets have interchanged publishers (Nine Arches Press doesn't do pamphlets, HappenStance doesn't do many books). Maria's taken 4 years to produce a pamphlet, and Gregory's taken 9 to produce a book, so neither has rushed. And it shows - both the second publications feel the right length; they're free of padding and have long acknowledgements sections. Both of the later publications have a prevailing but not monopolising theme that provides cohesion.

Both the poets have families and have written or edited other books in the interim, and they both write reviews, so they haven't been twiddling their thumbs while waiting for poems to arrive. All it needs is patience. What perhaps helps is that they inhabit creative writing environments that enable them to keep in touch with poetry-writing even when they're not feverishly writing poetry themselves.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Poachers and Gamekeepers

Gerry Cambridge edits "The Dark Horse" magazine and Nell Nelson runs HappenStance press. They both review, write articles, and still manage to write poetry. Both have written books of (and about) poetry, and both judge competitions - Gerry Cambridge is currently judging the National Poetry Competition.

  • Down with Poetry! by Helena Nelson (Happenstance, 2016) includes poems from "Ambit", "PN Review", and "The Rialto" - a heavier list of magazines than many unlight poetry books can boast. Several of the poems are about poetry. You shouldn't assume that the views expressed in these poems represent the publisher's opinions, but prospective submitters could do worse than read this collection.
  • How (not) to get your poetry published by Helena Nelson (Happenstance, 2016) has exercises and tables of information.
  • Notes for lighting a fire by Gerry Cambridge (Happenstance, 2011) is a book of poems that's been reviewed in "The TLS", "New Walk Magazine", "Critical Survey", "Poetry London", etc.
  • The Dark Horse by Gerry Cambridge (Happenstance, 2016) is the history of the magazine and much else besides. Well worth a read even if you're not thinking of submitting to the magazine.